Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Some Ramblings on Evil, Halloween Movies, the "Great Physician," and "This Political Climate"

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[This movie poster is misleading, because there's far more naked ugly ladies and goats and other early Colonial goosebumps and (fun fact!) the dialogue comes from actual transcripts of witch hunts!]
One of the most spiritually meaningful R-sie movies about Colonial America I ever saw was The Witch, or as I like to call it The VVitch. All kinds of spoilers here that don't matter to the enjoyment of the film, but the general plot is that a family, exiled from the settlement, because of their father's heterodox ideas, finds themselves on the edge of a dark forest. A literal witch literally steals and literally eats their baby, which is bad news all the time, but this dumb family blames their teenage daughter, who does regular teenagery things like tries to scare her annoying siblings. But everything she's done becomes interpreted as witchcraft and one-by-one everyone in her family begins to turn against her.  But the main thing is that everyone --total spoiler--dies horrible deaths and the teenage daughter, alone in the woods, with nowhere to turn uncertain whether there are witches says aloud that she wants to sign in with the devil and join the witches. Which she does. (Or "Witch she does"?)

The striking thing for me is that this stupid family is right; there are witches. It's just the witch is in the woods and not in the home. Let that sentence sink in a little: the witch is in the woods and not in the home.

There is a lot of awful and a lot of evil in this world, but it comes from Lucifer, "our common enemy," and not from each other, per se. It's not popular to talk about Satan and there's shaky doctrinal bedrocks on the topic, but here's my own take on it, informed, at least, by Mormonism. When you watch movies like The Possession of Emily Rose  ("Possession is 9/10ths of the law!"), you think of evil spirits possessing people as contortionists who love speaking backwards in Latin and freaking out people in remote areas. But if you saw a possession like that, it would be pretty hard to deny that something supernatural was happening and then it's a natural progression to believe in supernatural good (e.g. God). More likely, evil spirits lead people to thinking, "I'm smarter than she is," "That's none of my business," and "There's nothing wrong with what I'm doing." They are not insignificant thoughts. These kinds of thoughts, building on each other, lead to everything from great acts of depravity to everyday snotty brattitude.

But think about how dramatic these possession movies are. What if you lived a life of such kindness and generosity that a snide comment or a selfish act would be as unusual as walking up the side of the walls backwards on your hands and knees? What if you assumed that when someone did something snotty, it wasn't because they naturally were a snot, but because there was some circumstance or influence making them act like a snot? Would you be as eager as a scare-night exorcist to help them and heal them?

Christ fashioned himself as the "Great Physician," but many people in politics, religion and culture are looking to be executioners, cutting others off forever. Executioners do their job behind a mask, never closer than an axe's length, while a physician stands close, even TMI-close, to the body of the sick. That was the great downfall of the family in The VVitch--once they let themselves think that no one else could be a witch beside their daughter, their daughter had to be the witch. They cut her off. And while attempted filicide aside, this young woman finds no other choice than to become what she has been made into. There's a classic stalker-management book called The Gift of Fear that describes how to deal with a spoken threat after someone loses their job. Instead of calling security and having them publicly dragged out by armed men, you sigh and say, "I know you only said that because you're upset right now; you're too good of a person for that." (They also recommend firing people on Friday afternoons, so they have an entire "normal" weekend to process their feelings instead of stewing at home alone--pro tip!) The idea being that when you make someone the Bad Guy, you escalate the situation and make it difficult for them to back down. In fact, it may increase the stakes for them--they already have a blot against them, so why not go whole hog? When you're a physician, you anticipate someone getting well again; when you're an executioner, you're only waiting for them to stop twitching so you can go home.

And the ironic thing is that I think this family could have taken the witches if they hadn't been fighting each other. They never thought to look for the witch outside their family and instantly forgot all the good their daughter had done before this witch hunt began. I like to imagine an alternative ending where the family says "Hell, no" (pun intended), gather their pitchforks, and drive out that witch. Probably wouldn't have been as good a movie, but it's what we need right now. There's enough sorrow, suffering, pain and sickness out there that we need everyone. We can't afford to look for witches in the walls of our homes.


Sarah Chow said...

I love this! This move of seeing no one as an other (as in Alma 12:5) is the ultimate Kenneth Burke's third term: you believe in whatever, I believe in the opposite of whatever, but our common enemy is the devil.
You captured here what I find unsettling about so many calls for unity: any divisions between us aren't real, they're merely perceived. By saying we need to overcome division and love each other, we accept the assumption that divisions exist. But what we need is not to say, "Let's love each other even though some of us are witches," but to truly, deeply believe we don't have any witches in our home. We have only one adversary, and even if he's manifesting in each of us, we are all still saveable.

Dave said...

Great post Mary!

(I’ll totally show the VVitch to my seminary class so we can discuss. And I’ll do this without even a cursory investigation of why it’s R. Wish me luck! )